Archive for the ‘Operation Firedump’ Category

Douglas Farah reckons the Russians are trying to press the US State Department to press for Viktor Bout’s release, or rather his extradition to Russia, which would amount to the same thing. It’s an interesting suggestion, although usual caveats apply to a story sourced to Bill “WMD to Syria!!” Gertz. I can imagine them pitching it as a sort of grown-ups’ conspiracy, driven by the prospect of sensational revelations.

Just how sensational might be judged by this fine piece of work by the South African Mail & Guardian on the Khalid Rashid case, from back in 2006 (I blogged). Meanwhile, everyone’s worried about the fact Bout was offering portable SAMs for sale. I’m not at all surprised that he could source them; hell, he had in the past sold complete attack helicopters. Further, the weapons used in an attempt to bring down an Israeli Boeing 757-300 in Kenya originated in Bulgaria via Somalia, at a period when Irbis Air Co was sending off several flights a day from the UAE to northern Somalia and to ports on the Yemeni coast.

The Economist has a good story on the whole affair; they take the line that Russia has decided to be more helpful on the arms trade, pointing to the arrest of Monzer al-Kassar and the extradition of Yar Klein. That can await early confirmation, as far as I’m concerned. The Economist also points out that it’s worrying that he apparently thought he could still use Bulgaria and Romania as he did in the late 90s, now they’ve joined the EU; some interesting reports are coming out of Romania, for example here. And if anyone could translate this one I’d be very much obliged.

In other news, Bout’s brother Sergei, founder of CET Aviation in Malabo back in the 90s, appeared on Russian radio protesting Viktor’s innocence and asking “How could the American authorities behave in such an unprincipled way?”. He must be the last man on earth who couldn’t answer that one.

Meanwhile, z-list wingnut barkie and professional fuckwit Gateway Pundit tries to sneak in on the glory as part of a smear. Glad I’m not you. (In fact, he has given me the germ of an interesting idea. More soon.)

Andrew Smulian’s arrest with Viktor Bout is interesting in a couple of ways; first, there was the investigation itself, as previously blogged. Then, there’s the fact that he was clearly well embedded in the system, as far back as 1997. Context; the accounts for Air Pass, a South African company Bout reversed Air Cess into in that year and left with its debts, are quite spread around. Even Richard Chichakli’s website shows a few pages from them – of course, none of the items that mention Viktor Bout, and certainly not the credit card bills with Richard’s name on them. I’ve had copies for quite a while.

A Smulian was the recipient of air tickets bought with the Air Pass AMEX card whilst Viktor Bout controlled the company, three times in the winter and spring of 1998; a total of R14,000 in tickets with Kenya Airways and SAA. He is also listed as receiving R1,025 in health insurance contributions a month at their Johannesburg offices. At the same time, another Smulian, E or Etienne, is down for R8,260 a month in salary under Flight Ops and the same health benefits. E Smulian received an R3,217 cheque from the company at the end of 1997; he was also claiming mobile phone bills and car rental on expenses.

We don’t know if there are two Smulians, but we do know that Andrew is a South African pilot, and that if there is another, this may explain the mystery Brit at the Bangkok Sofitel.

Whilst I’ve got your attention, there are still aircraft on the Operation Firedump list we’re looking for. Ruud Leeuw deserves your thanks for keeping after this.

UN-75003 seen at Jeddah 03Jan08, still in basic Air Cess livery, no titles, operating a flight for Jubba Airways [Aviation Letter – Jan.2008]
# UN-75005 seen at Jeddah 01Jan08, in basic blue Air Cess c/s, no titles [Aviation Letter – Jan.2008]

Chuck in the Boeing 727 UN-B2702, serial 21861.

So why was Viktor in Thailand? Well, there are some possible explanations beyond the CTB theory that it was something to do with the Burmese junta, or the Chinese, or someone.

Specifically, there are reasons to think that South-East Asia might have been the next stop in the VB caravan, after Ostend, South Africa, and the UAE. Consider Imtrec Aviation; a regular on the various war routes out of Sharjah, they’re based (officially) in Cambodia but the aircraft, as ever, are based in Sharjah. Antonov-12 serial no. 1347907, for example, went from Aeroflot back in the days of respectability, via East Line or Avial and a spell on lease to the World Food Programme, to Aerocom, the Moldovan-flagged operation that was shut down after one of its planes was seized for smuggling cocaine through Belize, that shared aircraft with Jet Line International, Asterias Commercial, and ATI, and that was at the heart of the missing Bosnian guns case.

She later worked for Air Bridge Group, the short-lived Aerocom offshoot that wanted to operate from South-East Asia to Australia with aircraft that could open the rear cargo door in flight, and then, Imtrec. From there she was sold on to South Asian Airlines, a Bangladeshi-flag operation whose other aircraft included another An-12 leased from Imtrec that ended up with Veteran Airlines, yes, another regular Sharjah-Iraq/Afghanistan/Somalia shipper, and a very old Boeing 707 that was last heard of with Galaxy Air.

Galaxy Air? Yes. Galaxy Air, the people whose Il-18 serial no. 188011201 EX-786 was seized in Pakistan after a flight with 142 passengers, 20 of whom were standing in the aisle, during which one of the pilots collapsed with hypoxia. More relevantly, EX-786 had come via Phoenix Aviation of the UAE, a company repeatedly implicated in dubious activities there, formed from the old Viktor Bout companies Flying Dolphin and Santa Cruz Imperial. And another Galaxy Air Il-18, serial 185008601, EX-601, came from Santa Cruz Imperial via Phoenix Aviation.

Rolling the tape back a few, Antonov-12 serial no. 8345607 went from Imtrec to Daallo Airlines in Djibouti, and ended up with Click Airways in the UAE; one of the biggest operators on war routes there, and a company banned in the EU. On the way, as EK-12555, this aircraft survived a SAM hit over Baghdad whilst working for “private users in Armenia” – you could put it like that.

Then there’s the strange case of 3X-GDM, the Boeing 727 exported from the US to Afghanistan that was curiously involved in two other cases; the disappeared 727 in Angola, and the tragic Christmas Day 2003 crash in Cotonou. All three were traded via Afghanistan, Opa Locka in Florida, and the services of a company in the UAE called Financial Advisory Group; strangely enough, the Swazi registration 3X-GDM vanished shortly after the Cotonou accident to reappear on an An-12 in Cambodia. That aircraft (serial 401912) is now back with Avial Avn on the Russian register as RA-11372. Note that Andrew Smulian, Bout’s co-accused, was on the payroll of Air Cess back in 1998 when Bout wanted to move operations from South Africa to Swaziland.

Jetline International, the other one, owned two Il-62s it obtained from Viktor Bout companies Air Bas and Centrafrican Airlines, and leased in another from a Cambodian operator at the same time as it operated 3C-QRF, allegedly Bout’s financial manager Richard Chichakli’s plane.

Much more is filtering out about the Bangkok Bout Bust; it seems fairly certain that his arrest was the result of a sting operation in which the DEA posed as buyers from the FARC. Bout booked a meeting room in the Bangkok Sofitel; he, and several others, were waiting for their guests to arrive when the Thai police arrived instead. Initial reports said that he had only arrived in Thailand four hours earlier, on an Aeroflot flight (presumably from Russia); this has now given place to the suggestion that he had been staying in the hotel since January. It’s most likely that both are in fact true, and that Bout has been in Thailand for some time but had recently travelled to Russia.

The fake buyers ordered surface-to-air missiles and anti-armour weapons, precisely what you’d expect a modern guerrilla army to import. A figure of 100 missiles was given. According to the complaint against him, he went as far as offering them helicopters for sale, and suggested that the missiles could be delivered by airdrop into Colombia. Given the length of the route from the ex-USSR or Middle East pickup point to the destination, this argues that an Ilyushin 76 would have been the means of delivery.

According to the FT, the DEA narcs had been on the case for some time, and there had been past meetings in the Netherlands Antilles and Denmark. Further, the FT claims they got access to e-mail from Viktor’s Gmail account.

Viktor Bout has a Gmail account?!!!

In a further report, the FT mentions some of the people who were arrested with Bout. Chief among them is one “Andrew” Smulian, who has apparently already been ghosted from Thailand to the US. This name is interesting; someone of that surname has been associated with Bout since at least 1998, and he appears in the accounts of Air Pass for that year as a major recipient of cash from the company. This would appear to be corroboration of those documents.

It was inevitable that something weird would happen, though:

Mr Surapol said Mr Bout was arrested with five other people – four Russians and one British citizen – all of whom had been released due to lack of evidence of against them, and lack of local arrest warrants for them.

OK, so Bout is in Thai custody awaiting an extradition hearing. Bout and Smulian are the men named in the DEA’s writ. Smulian’s already been handed over – what’s that about? – but some five others have been released including one Briton.

I’m aware of at least two British associates, but one of them is in jail and the other hasn’t been reported as being involved in anything evil for years, and was anyway a marginal figure. The FT reckons the released men were the sting merchants.

Further, Doug Farah reports that the Russians have been making noises about issuing an extradition request; I remember overhearing a group of teenagers on a bus in Feltham, passing an ANPR mobile camera installation on the A30. One of them mentioned that it was a police camera that read number plates; the rest exclaimed “Sneaky Russians!” Indeed.

Meanwhile, the affair set the TYR infrastructure sweating, roaring and creaking like an old Antonov 12; just listen to those Kuznetsov turboprops. It was the biggest day in the history of the old blog with 1,576 uniques, plus a hundred or so more on the new blog; anything with a plane photo has been in heavy demand. My favourite google search ever: is max boot related to viktor bout? (the top result is this.)

But more interestingly, look at this: someone queried Russian Google for “Tenir Bout”, from theUAE. We also had someone in Moscow googling british gulf, as in British Gulf International Airlines/British Gulf International Company.

Here’s what our highly sophisticated surveillance network reported:
[u'06-Mar 23:45', u'Al-Fujairah', 'Sharjah', u'Tenir Airlines', u'TEB 4361', u'Estimated : 23:45 ']
[u'07-Mar 00:02', u'Al-Fujairah', 'Sharjah', u'Tenir Airlines', u'TEB 4361', u'Arrived at 00:02 ']
[u'07-Mar 03:00', None, 'Sharjah', u'Tenir Airlines', u'TEB 4361', u' ']
We’ve also seen them in the past doing routes like Sharjah-Baghdad-Kabul; a true war-on-terror trifecta, and in the last few weeks running into northern Somalia. Just look where the planes came from.

Wired Danger Room, meanwhile, theorises that the Bout network has been involved with the emerging Andes-West Africa-Europe cocaine route, and was trading weapons for drugs with the FARC. It’s plausible; even as early as the British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000, some of the militias were noted to have transatlantic trading connections.

Just for laughs, meanwhile, someone on an Armenian IP is googling for Viktor Bout and Pierre Falcone.

Update: More detail from the horse’s mouth. Looks like the DEA agents got Smulian to call Bout on a mobile phone they handed him so they knew which line to listen on. Huge security fart on Smulian’s part.

Viktor Bout arrested in Thai hotel room on charges of arming FARC.

And I didn’t even know he *was* doing. More, as they say, as we get it.

Update: Here’s the pic – it’s obviously him.

Surveillance

What on earth? Dolphin Air, (ICAO: FDN), the company formed from the assets of Santa Cruz Imperial, has a flight leaving Sharjah at 1600GMT for the United States – specifically Decatur, Illinois. Flight number is FDN 1457.

As far as I know the only aircraft left on the FDN register is an old 737-2X5, which has a range of 1800 nautical miles at the outside. That implies many stops; I reckon 17-18 hours and four or five sectors, either going north via Scotland/Iceland/Newfoundland or south via somewhere in the western Mediterranean, the Azores, and Gander, Newfoundland. Decatur is GMT-6; so STD is 1000A. +18 hours – about 0400 local time tomorrow.

Update: Rechecked – the aircraft left well ahead of schedule at 1134GMT…so ETA 0030 local/0630Z!

Update Update: A comment informs us that, like another Dolphin Air 737, it’s been sold to Air Inuit of Canada. Checking, it looks like it was probably A6-ZYA, serial number 21926, formerly of Trans Air Congo…

It’s quite surprising literally no-one during the recent reopening of the missing Iraqi guns story has thought fit to mention the delicious kicker that the shipment travelled in an aircraft chartered by a company that had just been shut down for cocaine-smuggling. Except for various random forum users. Jet Line International, for it was they who supplied Aerocom with the aeroplane ER-IBV, have of course been shut down. So I’m happy, although I’d be happier if anyone knew what became of the weapons.

Antonov An-12BK serial 9346904, now with something called “Meridian” in the Ukraine as UR-CAG…formerly ER-AXY with the following roll-call of Viktor Bout operations.

Aerocom, Asterias Commercial, Astral Aviation, ATI, ACS, Jet Line International…

Antonov An-12BK serial 9346904, now with something called “Meridian” in the Ukraine as UR-CAG…formerly ER-AXY with the following roll-call of Viktor Bout operations.

Aerocom, Asterias Commercial, Astral Aviation, ATI, ACS, Jet Line International…